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Lewes Priory

In the civil parish of Lewes.
In the historic county of Sussex.
Modern Authority of East Sussex.
1974 county of East Sussex.
Medieval County of Sussex (Rape of Lewes).

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ415096
Latitude 50.86815° Longitude 0.00846°

Lewes Priory has been described as a probable Fortified Ecclesiastical site.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The Priory of St Pancras is significant in its own right as a good example of a medieval Cluniac house, and also in its association with nearby Lewes Castle which lies only 500m to the north of the Priory. The Priory played an important part in the aftermath of the battle of Lewes, since Henry III was taken there after his defeat in the battle, and the Priory was besieged by Simon De Montfort's men. Peace was negotiated, resulting in the Mise of Lewes, which set up a council to take over the powers of the monarchy, and was the start of parliamentary democracy. Much is already known about the history of the priory, and there is still a lot of archaeological potential in the site. The priory at Lewes was the first Cluniac establishment in England, and has the unusual dedication to St Pancras. The ruins, which have public access adjacent, provide an important amenity and learning opportunity, and add to the unique identity of the town of Lewes. (Scheduling Report)

Close to the east wall of Southover parish church are the remains of the Great Gate of the priory. It was a square building with two adjacent archways in its west wall and a stair-turret at the north-west angle. The southern arch was approximately 10 ft. wide and the northern 5 ft. The south jamb of the former arch survives, and shows that it was of four orders, each with a shaft, moulded base, and capitals. The material is Sussex marble; the free shafts have disappeared, but the capitals, bonded into the masonry, show square abaci and stiff-leaf foliage, and the hollow mouldings have carved leaf ornament. The smaller archway has been re-erected at the west end of Priory Crescent and now shows a two-centred pointed archway. An 18th-century drawing by Lambert represents it as semicircular and the span of the arch has been evidently reduced. The date of the gatehouse, which must have been a building of great importance and beauty, is about 1200. Portions of its southern wall still exist, bounding the parish churchyard, and there is part of an archway in this wall at right-angles to the entrance. (VCH 1940)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1361 July 1 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).


The priory was granted a licence to crenellate in 1361. This is suggested as a response to French raids although the major raid, in which the priory was successfully defended but the prior was captured and held to ransom occurred in 1377. What building work, if any, was done in association with this licence is unclear but the priories precinct wall and gatehouse predate the licence.
Graham Mayhew, who's focus is on the Priory, feels the licence and, presumably, the precinct wall were intended to be defensive. Coulson, looking at licences to crenellate in a much wider perspective, sees the licence and precinct walls as fundamentally symbolic in function. It should be noted that in the French raid of 1377 the citizens of Lewes met the French outside the walls of the Priory and gave battle there, in the open. It would have been possible for the citizens to have used the Priory as a retreat had things gone badly but the monks would never have been able to defend the Priory themselves either from the French or from the citizen of Lewes. The Church's defence of its considerable wealth and tax taking powers laid mainly in symbolic constructs about church inviolability and divine retribution.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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